walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Jon Ronson, _The Psychopath Test_

Subtitled: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

Publisher is Riverhead, which is a division of Penguin (a division of Pearson -- Penguin/Pearson is one of the Big 6 publishers).

I have read two previous books by this author, and will look forward to his next effort. (It looks like there is at least one book by him I have not read, which is a collection of his newspaper work.)

Ronson likes to write books about people who are crazy. _Them_ was about religious extremists. _The Men Who Stare at Goats_ is about certain US military programs that sound like stupid conspiracy theories but turn out to have actually occurred. _The Psychopath Test_ is about mental illness, its definition, people who might or might not have it, and the people who work on it either academically, therapeutically or in the criminal justice system. He's mostly focused on psychopathy/psychopaths as defined by Bob Hare's PCL-R.

Wikipedia has a really great article about it:


However, Ronson is also prepared to explore other aspects of mental health, changing diagnoses, etc. and how those interact with society in general.

Ronson has a couple of really strong attributes as a person and a writer. He feels things strongly, notices those feelings, and can describe them effectively in writing. Also, he is conscious of his fascination with things that are somewhat nutty: too nutty, and it's sort of sad. Not very nutty, and it's a little boring. His books, therefore, are _really fascinating_, because we're all interested in things that are the right amount nutty, and a lot of us like to connect emotionally with an author when we're reading.

If you want to learn about psychopathy per se, you're probably better off with the wikipedia entry. Ronson's approach tends to be a little bit scattered. He does a lot of really interesting interviews (obviously, given that he's looking for The Crazy) and he's very compassionate. His presentation is partly chronological, and partly thematic and unfortunately that is sometimes extremely confusing. Also, I'm still uncertain what all that stuff was about the weird book getting send 'round at the beginning of the book and towards the end. (I was deeply skeptical whether this was even true, and was starting to be suspicious of whether I should trust Ronson, but then I found this: http://muriloq.com/blog/2008/09/being-or-nothingness-marketing-viral-bizarro/). If you want an entertaining book that contemplates what it means to be mentally ill in a way that is dangerous to self and others, and very carefully avoids taking any kind of ideological or doctrinaire stance on the question, this is definitely for you.

Or, if you're just looking for some funny non-fiction.

I think the big take-away for me is that the internet is everyone's playground -- and that some of the participants really are very crazy, as in, not really entertaining any more, just destructive and/or sad.
Tags: book review, diagnosis, health, non-fiction
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